Major German Parties Rule Out Deals With Populist AfD Despite its Large Gains in State Elections

By James Carstensen | September 3, 2019 | 9:20pm EDT
All smiles despite the disappointing election results, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leader of her CDU, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, congratulate Saxony’s state premier and top CDU candidate in the state, Michael Kretschme. (Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – The major center-right and center-left parties comprising Germany’s ruling federal coalition took a bad knock in two state elections in the formerly communist east of the country at the weekend. But as each is forced to look for coalition options in the two states they are ruling out working with the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party at all costs.

“It is a difficult result that I take very seriously,” Christian Democrats (CDU) party leader Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters on Monday, referring to Sunday’s state election outcome.

Asked whether the party could forge ahead without doing a deal with the AfD, she replied simply, “Yes, we can.”

Meanwhile the Social Democrats (SPD) has similarly ruled out working with the AfD, which holds anti-immigration and euroskeptic positions.

“That is definitely not possible at all,” SPD secretary-general Lars Klingbeil told Bild.

The CDU and SPD, traditionally Germany’s largest parties and currently coalition partners in the federal government – each lost considerable ground to the AfD in the elections in Saxony and Brandenburg states.

In Saxony, the AfD captured 27.5 percent of the vote, a jump of 17.8 points since the 2014 state election, while it climbed 11.3 points in Brandenburg, to reach 23.5 percent.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU remains the strongest party in Saxony, but dropped 7.3 points to 32.1 percent, less than five points ahead of the AfD. The SPD took just 7.7 percent of the state’s vote, down 4.7 points.

In Brandenburg, the SPD held onto the top position, but lost 5.7 points to take 26.2 percent, less than three points clear of the AfD.

Welcoming his party’s achievement, AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland said the results showed that it offers a “credible and authentic solution” for German voters. He suggested the CDU should consider a coalition with the AfD, but added there was no “rush.”

The AfD was established as a euroskeptic party in 2013, and then began capitalizing on discontent over immigration following the arrival of almost a million refugees in 2015 due to Merkel’s “open door” policy.

The east of the country provides a strong source of support for the anti-immigration, anti-Islam party. Saxony is home to the city of Chemnitz, which saw mass protests against immigrants in 2018, and Dresden, the home base of the controversial anti-immigrant campaign group PEGIDA.

Despite post-Cold War reunification in 1990, the eastern states in Germany have maintained a feeling of resent against those in the west, where wages are generally higher and unemployment lower.

A recent poll by broadcaster ARD found 66 percent of eastern voters in Saxony – from every party except the Greens – felt they were “second-class citizens.”

The AfD has stoked controversy on numerous occasions, most recently last month when Andreas Kalbitz, its lead candidate in Brandenburg, admitted to taking part in a neo-Nazi rally in Greece in 2007. He claimed to have done so merely out of “curiosity.”

The CDU and SPD are now expected to approach the Greens, which made modest gains in the elections, in a bid to build potential coalitions in the two state governments. The AfD has called that idea “unsustainable.”

Together, the CDU, SPD and Greens would account for 48.4 percent in Saxony (compared to AfD’s 27.5 percent), while a CDU-SPD-Green alliance in Brandenburg would net 52.6 percent control (compared to AfD’s 23.5 percent).

Greens leader Robert Habeck said coalition negotiations with the CDU would be difficult, noting that his party and the CDU were “actually opposed on all issues.”

On that score, the CDU happens to be pushing ahead with a new focus on climate change – a core issue for the Greens – with a special “climate cabinet” meeting planned for September 20, following a meeting next Monday of coalition leaders to consider new climate protection policies.

Although a recent Eurobarometer showed that migration remained the biggest concern for Germans (and Europeans in general), climate change had, for the first time, risen to second place in Germany.


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